Michelle: breaking the gender mould
Michelle Muzigirwa grew up and graduated in Rwanda and is now studying in MACE for a Master’s in Construction Project Management, having received an Equity and Merit Scholarship to support her studies. She talks about her journey to this point in Manchester and why it’s so important that women and girls show ambition in traditionally male-dominated fields such as engineering…
My desire to study construction began when I was 15 years old. At this age I started thinking about the person I would like to become.
I grew up with a dream to become someone who could contribute to the development of my country, because at that time Rwanda had started the campaign ‘Vision 2020’, which was mostly about developing the country’s infrastructure.
So I said to myself: “Let me study STEM at advanced level so that I will be able to go to university and study construction engineering, which will enable me to realise my dream.”
“I succeeded beyond expectation and graduated as the top student in my class”
However, when we were choosing a course to study at university, some of my friends said I would not be able to work in construction because it is a male-dominated field.
To prove them wrong, I continued with my ambition to study construction. As a result, I succeeded beyond expectation and graduated as the top student in my class.
I studied Maths, Physics and Computer Science in Advanced level at high school and Construction Management at University. I graduated with a first GPA in my undergraduate degree and, due to this, I received an offer from a leading construction company in Rwanda where I worked as a quantity surveyor and procurement officer.
“After graduating I was offered a job at a leading construction company in Rwanda”
Engineering is a field with a bright future as it is so broad. In fact, people who study engineering have so many different career prospects. For example, before joining The University of Manchester, I had two different positions related to engineering within the same company (quantity surveyor and procurement officer). And there were many other positions which I could fit.
Therefore, it is so motivating and enjoyable to study a course knowing that you and your skills are needed in the market.
“Engineers must have excellent communication and teamwork skills”
I chose to study at The University of Manchester because of its reputation not only in Rwanda but worldwide. Most of the previous cohort who studied here have great careers and are contributing to development of Rwanda. For instance, the Rwandan Minister of Transport graduated from the MSc course here at The University of Manchester in 2013.
Studying engineering requires effort and a hard-working spirit. Since engineering requires working with people, engineers must have excellent communication and teamwork skills.
Furthermore, they must have problem-solving skills, as we don’t live in a Utopian world and we need to find solutions to current problems and challenges.
My research is about project risk management. Most of the projects in Rwanda experience risks related to going over budget and running behind schedule. This is because they do not put much effort in doing thorough risk analysis before starting any given project.
So, conducting research on how to pro-actively manage risks will help me to become the successful project manager I always dreamt of being.
“Girls should not be put off by the fact that engineering is a male-dominated field”
I would not be here if I had listened to people who said that construction is a male-dominated field. Furthermore, people need to realise that engineers don’t all work outside or on building sites.
There are many design or management-based jobs for those who like to work from an office. It is a matter of knowing what you want and working hard for it.
Girls are able and they can do equally as well in engineering as boys. If they want to do engineering, they should be ready to work hard. Girls should not be put off.
“It’s a matter of knowing what you want and working hard for it”
It is important to have female engineers as it will encourage other young girls to study engineering and science subjects. Current engineers can act as role models for younger generations. One day we will no longer ask ourselves the question: “Why do we have fewer female engineers?”